Hepatitis and liver cancer

The diagnosis of  primary liver cancer related to chronic viral hepatitis infection in Australia is on the rise.

Primary liver cancer is one of the fastest increasing causes of cancer death and has the second fastest increasing incidence of all cancers. Liver cancer survival remains low, with less than 17% of people still alive 5 years after diagnosis. 1

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are more likely to develop liver cancer than non-Indigenous Australians and are 2.5 times more likely to die from liver cancer. 2

Globally, viral hepatitis is responsible for 80% of liver cancers. The majority of primary liver cancers are from untreated chronic hepatitis B or C infection.

Hepatitis B

  • There are  almost 240,000 people living in Australia with chronic hepatitis B infection. 
  • Most of these infections are in people from countries with a high prevalence of hepatitis B and were infected at birth or in childhood, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Without medical intervention, 1 in 4 people living with chronic hepatitis B infection will die from liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
  • 2 in 5 people are unaware they have chronic hepatitis B and may be symptomless.
  • 15% of people with chronic hepatitis B would benefit from treatment.  Less than 5% of those who need treatment are accessing it.
  • Appropriate treatment for chronic hepatitis B can reduce the risk of liver cancer by up to 75%.
  • Hepatitis B infection is  vaccine preventable and many people are eligible for free vaccinations

Hepatitis C

  • There are  227,000  people in Australia living with chronic hepatitis C infection. 
  • Most new infections are related to the sharing of injecting drug equipment. 
  • 60–70% of those with chronic infection will develop chronic liver disease, 20–30% will develop cirrhosis, and 1–5% will be diagnosed with liver cancer.
  • There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, but treatment is available.
  • There are new drugs available which can cure the hepatitis C virus in 95–97% of cases in as little as 8 weeks, and have few or no side effects.
  • 1 in 6 people  are undiagnosed and may not have symptoms.
  • People who need testing  include people from refugee and migrant communities

Early diagnosis is the key for liver cancer prevention

  • People from priority populations for hepatitis B and C need to be tested
  • People need their liver health checked regularly and referred to a specialist at the right time, there's no such thing as a healthy carrier
  • People should be treated for hepatitis and screened for liver cancer at the right times
  • People who are at higher risk of infection need to be vaccinated for hepatitis B

Health professional resources

Patient resources

Research and policies

Cancer Council Victoria's Screening, Early Detection and Immunisation Program works to address the rise of liver cancer caused by viral hepatitis. The program has a focus on reducing the percentage of people with hepatitis who are undiagnosed as well as increasing access to medical monitoring and treatment. 

For more information on the program contact the Viral Hepatitis Program Co-ordinator Emily Adamson on (03) 9514 6493 or emily.adamson@cancervic.org.au